There’s a huge difference between blogging and content marketing, yet there’s also a lot of confusion between the two. Companies and freelancers have a tendency to plop a blog on their website, type out a few posts, and call it content marketing. After months of work with no results, they end up frustrated that their so-called “content marketing” plan isn’t working.
Blogging vs Content Marketing: Why the Confusion?
If you’re not sure what makes content marketing different from blogging, you’re not alone.
Content marketing is rather trendy right now, and whenever a marketing technique gets trendy, floods of inexperienced marketers (and plenty of spammers) enthusiastically jump on board. While the excitement is great, one of the side effects is an abundance of misunderstandings, rampant corner-cutting, and the vast spread of incorrect information. This happens because of the droves of people who are always looking for the quick and easy path to success.
When a marketing tactic becomes trendy, all of those people pounce on what the think is a golden opportunity. Soon enough, they realise that this is just another type of work. Eventually, the mass excitement fades away as the majority of those people move on, still looking for that miracle. In almost every case, the technique really does work; the problem is that the shortcut-seekers never put in the work to execute it correctly. That’s happening with content marketing right now. Content marketing works remarkably well, and like every other effective marketing technique, it takes quite a lot of strategy, discipline, and work.
Blogging takes considerably less effort than content marketing. There is value in a blogging strategy, and if you are a content marketer, you are likely using a blog as part of your outreach. In that case, your blog is only one small component of content marketing, not the defining feature.
What Is Blogging?
A blog is a website or page on which regular updates are posted. These updates are called, rather appropriately, blog posts. Fun fact: the word ‘blog’ is a shortening of word ‘weblog,’ as in a log of things on the web. Blogs can take many forms and include many types of content such as photos, videos, audio files, and text. If you’re updating a page with new content in a post format, you’re blogging.
That’s all it is.
If you’re trying to attract new web traffic with your blog, monetise your posts, or incorporate blogging into a larger strategy, things can get more complicated. By definition, though, blogging is very, very simple.
What Is Content Marketing?
As the name suggests, content marketing is a type of marketing strategy. Your brand creates content that your most qualified prospects are actively looking for, thus attracting good traffic to your business. That’s a bit confusing if you’re new to the concept, so let’s put it another way:
In traditional marketing, you spend lots of time and money trying to get your messaging in front of potential customers. With content marketing, your marketing materials are so valuable to your potential customers that they come looking for you.
What Is Content?
Everything your brand creates is content. The term includes your blog posts, your social media updates, the images and text on your business cards, your radio ads, your weekly podcast, even down to the tagline under your logo. Content is the way you reach your audience, and it covers a broad range of media.
Content marketing, then, is using all of that stuff to market your brand. Since content is so widely varied, content marketing can become complex for even small companies.
How Does Content Marketing Work?
There are two major components that come together to make content marketing effective, and you must have both in order to see results: value, and branding. Value is the part that attracts qualified prospects to your content. Your branding is the part that turns your content into marketing material. Let’s start with:
The Concept of Value
The easiest way to determine if your content is valuable to your readers is to ask yourself this: Am I giving them something for free that they would willingly pay for under normal circumstances?
Perhaps your content is very entertaining. Do people pay for entertainment? Of course! That’s value. Your content may be highly informative. People pay to be informed, right? If they didn’t, universities wouldn’t exist. Always be on the lookout for ways to increase the value of your content, whether it’s adding instructional videos, sharing more often, or even connecting your audience to form a lively community.
One caution though – as you’re finding ways to increase your content’s value, stay diligently focused on the people in your audience. Not all people find the same things interesting or important. Even though another content marketer uses witty humor to make their content more engaging, that same humor might not resonate with your readers.
Create targeted content, else you’ll attract lots of people who will never become your customers, and you’ll end up frustrated and broke. Nail your targeting and your branding, and you’ll start to see results.
Branding Makes It Worth Your Time
Even if you’re just one person selling muffins from your grandma’s secret recipe, branding matters. Your marketing becomes dramatically more powerful when your messaging is backed by a solid, consistent brand. Branding distills your entire business into something that other people can easily recognize. Think of it this way:
When you begin to form a relationship with someone new, you start to recognise the consistencies in their manner, their appearance, and their habits, don’t you? Eventually, you begin to associate their favourite brown jumper with their big, warm smile.
It’s the same thing that happens when you smell your Mum’s perfume, drive by a restaurant where you had an incredible date, or taste the bubble gum you and your brother used to chew as children. Those kinds of powerful associations turn something insignificant – a popular brand of perfume – into something emotionally resonant and meaningful – loving thoughts of your mother.
Branding through content marketing does something similar. It connects your business with a feeling and a message, and that means you can convey a lot of powerful information with just a few well-chosen words and images.
An Introduction to Branded Content
Now you know what a brand does, though you might still be a tad bit confused about what a brand actually is. Your brand is essentially your company’s public personality. Just like a human personality, it’s something that lives at the core of your company. You know it better than anyone else, and other people discover it gradually through interaction and observation.
Small things like word choice, the structure of your website, and the pictures you share on social media all contribute to your brand. Internally, your guiding principles, your mission, and your primary marketing message form a solid framework on which your brand can build.
The process of branding is much like the process of finding yourself. It doesn’t happen all at once, and there will likely be shifts and evolutions for the rest of your business’ life.
How Do You Get a Brand?
Branding isn’t easy, and it isn’t quick. Developing a brand has as much to do with the people who you serve as it does with who you are as a company.
Good branding starts with a lot of in-depth market research, and then some more market research, followed by a little bit more market research. The goal of all of that research is to figure out who is in your audience, and then to figure out why those people care about you. When you think you’ve done enough research, you haven’t.
Do more research.
Once you’ve got as much data as you can possibly gather, you can start looking for the intersection between these 4 questions:
- Why does your company exist?
- What does your company care about?
- Who is going to interact with your company?
There are probably multiple answers to all of those questions, which is why developing a brand is much more of an art than a science. Find a way to connect your and your audience’s priorities in a way that benefits both sides, and you’re on the right track.
How Do You Get Your Brand Into Your Content?
Admittedly, that’s not enough information for you to be able to go out and develop a brand right now. Branding takes more time, effort, and skill than a blogger can give you in a single post, even if that blogger is ridiculously talented.
You can get started with this basic information, though. Once you’ve got a basic idea of what you want your brand to convey, the next step is actually conveying it through your content. Your tone, word choice, sense of humor, and subject matter all help you share your brand. That’s admittedly a vague description, so here’s an example of branded content in action:
Let’s imagine you have a consulting business designed to help small business owners manage their teams more effectively, and one of your most important core brand ideals is that you are approachable and friendly. Some of your branded content might look like this:
- You write long, informative blog posts in friendly, but professional language
- Your business cards include quotes about leadership on the back
- Your social media posts include lots of images of your smiling face and regularly feature the small business owners you help
- You include a direct phone number and an invitation to phone in every marketing email
- Your mailers look like greeting cards instead of business brochures
Friendliness, professionalism, and your mission to help small business owners come through in every communication. Each time your content touches a potential client, those same ideas and feelings are reinforced, and that builds familiarity and trust.
What Kind of Content Should You Create?
The answer to this question is different for every business. Let your readership determine what types of content you create and where you publish it. If a substantial number of your potential customers are active on LinkedIn, for example, it’s wise to use the article feature there to create content for your brand. Start with content you can manage with consistency, and branch out as you begin seeing success with your efforts.
This is where blogging comes in. It’s a part of your content marketing strategy, but by itself, it isn’t content marketing.
As you begin blogging for the first time, make sure that your blog is on the primary website where you want traffic to accumulate. Blogs are big traffic drivers, and they’re especially great at capturing traffic from search engines, so having your main blog on a site other than the one that produces your income is just wasted effort.
There is a time and a place for off-site blogging, but your primary blog belongs on your primary site. Blogging keeps your site fresh (a big deal for search engines) and it’s one of the most effective ways to develop and share your brand’s voice.
Great blog posts give you valuable content that you can share on other platforms, address your audience’s interests and needs in a more holistic way, and encourage your fans to share your brand with their friends. If you’re like most people, blogging is a completely new skill.
It takes time and effort to learn to write good blog posts. The only way you’re going to do it well is by spending a long time doing it poorly. While you should always aim to create the best content you can, don’t get too hung up on perfection. Be willing to be a beginner.
The day you decide on your brand name and register your domain, go to all the social media channels you can think of and claim your username. Don’t panic. You’re not going to use all of those social media profiles. Especially if you’re running a business and doing your own marketing, there’s simply not enough time in a day to maintain a social presence on every platform.
However, reserving your usernames gives you the option to use that platform later if the market shifts. It also prevents username squatters – if you own the username for your brand, nobody else can log in and pretend to be you or try to hold that username hostage.
While you’re using social media, focus on native content. Native content means that you’re posting directly on each platform you use rather than posting the same thing on every site.
As consumers, we use each social media platform differently, don’t we? We’re in a different mindset while we’re on Pinterest than we are on Instagram, and our behavior changes when we switch from Twitter to Facebook. Let your audience’s behavior determine which platforms you use, and post branded, engaging content that makes sense for the way they’re using it.
This is where content marketing starts to get a little more complex and challenging. Content outreach is often the part of your content marketing strategy that yields the highest returns.
Rather than creating content within your own small circle of influence and hoping that other people share it to the outside world, content outreach means that you create branded content in other people’s circles so that new audiences can find you.
Outreach takes more skill and tenacity than creating your own native content, which is part of the reason it works so well. Few people are executing effectively, so your great work stands out.
Here are some of the strategies that fall under content outreach:
- Guest blogging
- Public speaking
- Giving interviews
- Instagram and Snapchat takeovers
- Guest columns in magazines and newspapers
Your content outreach strategies are only limited by your imagination and your skill to execute. As always, pay attention to where your potential customers congregate, both online and off, and create strategies that get your branded content in front of them there.
No matter where your content is posted, pay close attention to your branding and your consistency. The type of content may vary from platform to platform, but your voice and messaging should stay rock solid.
As you’re starting out with content marketing for the first time, it’s wise to start small. Only take on as many channels and tactics as you can handle with consistency, and as you see success, expand gradually. You don’t have to be a genius at everything right away. Build your skill, learn as you go, and don’t be afraid to outsource some of your content marketing work to a specialist if you’re serious about adopting content marketing as part of your core strategy.
In The Next Post In This Series…
Let’s dig deeper on the topic of branding. We’ll cover how to start developing your brand, where to look to find important data about your prospective customers, and how to bring all of that raw information together to make sense of your findings and create a powerful brand for your business. Check back to learn How to Do That Branding Thing.